10 Random Observations about the Church

A row of Church pewsI travel and perform/speak in a different church almost every weekend and have for the past 40 years—that’s a lot of churches. You do the math. And these are churches of all denominations and sizes and colors. Lunch with the pastor after a morning service is typical. I can almost always count on being asked a question like this:  “Chuck, you are in a lot of churches… what are some observations you’ve made about the church today?”

I know they want an answer with some profundity, but I don’t know if my answers will satisfy. So here are 10 random observations about the church, for what they are worth, and in no specific order.  This is not a scientifically researched treatise… just my observations.

1) The medium-size church is disappearing. I am often in church buildings designed to hold 500-1000 people with less than 100 in the worship service. There seem to be churches of under 100, and the mega church with thousands of people, but not much in between—churches of 200-500 are few. Pastors routinely over-estimate their attendance. They will tell me they have 150 people in worship but when I arrive there are less than 100… this happens a lot!

2) Based on my experience it would seem that the average age in most churches today is over 50. There is plenty of gray hair and there are not very many millennials in the pews.

3) The “Meet and Greet” moment in the worship service needs go. Most churches do it and in most churches it feels forced and awkward. I see plenty of meeting and greeting before the service that seems genuine. If your main goal is to make a visitor feel welcome, I think there is a better way to do it.

4) I have rarely visited a church that matches the negative stereotype portrayed in the media or by Hollywood. (That being the extremes of super fanatical or super boring). I’m not saying they don’t exist… but they are certainly not what I have found under the majority of steeples in the country.

5) People really do “play hooky” from church when the pastor is gone. I often fill in for a pastor who is away at a conference or on vacation. I almost always hear the head deacon say, “I don’t know where everybody is today.”

6) Contrary to what the media would have you believe, the church is filled with people who care about the poor and are involved in ministries that are truly striving to make a difference.

7) At the risk of sounding like my parents… your music is too loud!

8) People still sit in the back (maybe because the music is too loud) or are very spread out in the sanctuary, making those 100 people in a space that hold 500 feel even more empty.

9) There is not much being done to encourage and elevate the arts in most churches. Other than the worship team/band, the opportunities for an artist to be involved in the life of the church are very limited. (I’ve blogged about this one before, but I have to throw it in here.)

10) It can be a challenge today to figure out a church’s denominational affiliation. Oh it still exists, but you won’t find it on church signs and in printed material like you used to. This can be good thing. It can also be embarrassing if, say, you are charismatic and think you are in a Pentecostal church, only to find yourself being stared down after raising your arms and shouting hallelujah in a Baptist church.

Like I said, no science here… just some observations from that “Christian Actor Guy!”

9 thoughts on “10 Random Observations about the Church

  1. Greg says:

    I concur. My sampling is smaller, but, for the most part I have observed much the same. Except: The music isn’t usually too loud, and I DO see millennials in some churches, though I wouldn’t say they were crowding the pews by any means. My final observation is that the church needs to change again to stay relevant. It was music in the early 70s, drama in the 80s, and video in the 90s. But all of these things just come and go and do “something” for a while, but what do they really do? What about revival?

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  2. Eric Miller says:

    Chuck, I really enjoyed this list! Thanks for the insights, and let’s pray for more opportunities for artists!! 🙂

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  3. Debbie Goodwin says:

    Chuck,
    Really good observations. I agree with every one. Thank you for summarizing in big picture ways. How to address them? That’s the big question we must grapple with. I fear that too often we have borrowed models that don’t fit and lose more than we gain in adopting them. Praying we can learn to turn at the right places and end so many detours.

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  4. Judy says:

    I found this very interesting, and agree with at least the ones I have experience with 🙂

    One church we visited did something with “Meet & Greet” that I liked. They suggested some fun question or fact to share each week. On the week of changing to Daylight Savings, for example, people were supposed to share if they were a morning or an evening person. On Father’s Day, we were asked to share suggestions of a great place to take Dad for lunch. I felt like those led to at least “mini-connection” moments.

    But for the most part, I agree that they are awkward at best…

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  5. Jon Karn says:

    Thanks for this Chuck.
    It’s probably more helpful than you think. I should mention, the people who write the latest books about the current state of the church have not been in a tiny fraction of the number of churches you have been in. That makes your opinion far more valid as far as I’m concerned. Yet, from their offices, Christian authors and current church gurus feel free to boss us around. “You need to …”
    It’s a pleasure to read something by a well traveled friend of the church who doesn’t talk like he has all the answers.
    Jon

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  6. Scott Bettis says:

    I’ve been in a number of the same churches you have, though not nearly as many. The structure of today’s church seems to me to have changed from the way things were in the first century. Personally I think most of those changes have been for the good, but there seems to be a striving for the mega-church rather than the individual attention and fellowship that must have prevailed in the early church as Christians gathered together in homes near where they lived. Some churches are trying to recapture that intimacy by segregating congregations into “small groups,” or “home groups” with varying degrees of success. Oddly enough, many of the groups I have attended merely tried to reproduce the the same corporate environment the enjoy on Sunday morning, but with food. Not that I’m an expert or anything, but I think it would be better to try for a less rigidly structured mini service and concentrate on allowing “every joint to supply.” And food of course. Must have the food.

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  7. Sam Hunter says:

    I concur with your observations. One thing that stands out is that churches now have individual cultures. It isn’t like McDonalds with the same menu and feel. Along with that, churches are losing their perceived relevance to the community around them. The gospel is still alive and well, but the distance from the surrounding community is greater. Folks today long for dialog and are waiting to see if the people in the church listen and express genuine care.

    Oh yea – anything over 80 db is probably too much sound.

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  8. Steve says:

    #7- Interesting how our worship music has evolved. Congragational singing, was beautiful with either acapella or with an instrument (organ, piano, guitar, etc.), and you could actually hear the congragation singing, many singing parts and harmonizing, just beautiful! Today, a number of churches I visit have the amps up so loud that all you can hear are those on the mics! While they generally are good, when they are all you can hear, it is no longer “congregational singing” but has now become a “mini concert”. Many of these churches are aware of the volume and offer ear plugs, and I’ve noticed that many, both young and old wearing them. Many think the louder the better, but I disagree. I truly miss the good old congregational singing.

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  9. Matt says:

    The church has followed the corporate American culture where success is measured in numbers, buildings and programs. It has become a gathering of people to have a nice programs rather than a community of broken people with a mission of healing

    Reply

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